A broken-record piece of advice I heard as a new mom was: “You need to make time for yourself!” But, uh, when? Once I finally settled my sleep-resistant son for his nap, I needed to chuck in some laundry, clear up enough baby paraphernalia (how is there so much?) to find the floor, shove some food down my gullet, and — dear god! — what has the cat just done? I couldn’t see where relaxing “me time” would fit in. It was just another expectation on the teetering pile, and one that I ignored.
But now, three and a half years into this parenting gig, I know this advice, which seemed so obnoxious at the time, was actually well-intentioned — parents, moms especially, really do need to practice some self-care. If we don’t, it’s nearly impossible to be everything our kids need us to be. (At bare minimum, we shouldn’t burst into tears every time a cookie falls on the floor.)
As a work-at-home mom, opportunities for solo time can be particularly elusive. When I’m not busy caring for my son, I need to grab the chance to squeeze in some uninterrupted work. I feel like every minute is accounted for and it’s next to impossible to, say, go to a yoga class twice a week without taking an ill-afforded financial hit.
Since large chunks of personal time are off the table for now, and I can’t go through life as a giant ball of stress, I’ve had to make the best of my circumstances. Something that keeps me sane is grabbing little moments of “mindfulness” throughout each day — times when I can briefly yet fully attune my body and spirit to the world around me. Here are 11 ways I do it:
Seeking words of wisdom
An insightful, pithy phrase stops me in my tracks and brings me joy, so, against Marie Kondo’s advice, I keep books everywhere. Buddhist philosopher Thich Nhat Hanh literally has a book called “Moments of Mindfulness.” Our house is full of words-as-art — everything from quotations emblazoned on coasters, coffee mugs and magnets, to sticky notes I leave for myself: “Breathe!” or “There is chocolate in the cupboard,” etc.
Jot it down
My mind is often a buzzing swarm of to-dos and it gets hard to think straight, let alone relax, even if and when I have a moment to myself. Keeping writing materials at hand lets me release the pressure once in a while by jotting things down. Voilà! Room for mindfulness! (Just don’t accidentally recycle all the things you have to remember.)
Start a gratitude jar
Gratitude jars provide a simple way to cultivate the habit of being mindful of the good things in your life. Each day or week, jot down on a scrap of paper one thing for which you’re grateful and put it into your designated collection vessel. This helps to: 1) train your mind to notice positives; and 2) cheer you up when you’re in a funk. But make sure that slips of paper and a pen are attached to the jar, or else by the time you gather supplies, the moment will have passed. Three months later you will be staring at a ungrateful jar of dust, and what could be a more disheartening metaphor for your life than that?
I enjoy essential oils, both for their deodorizing abilities (preschooler, teenager, dog — enough said) and for their calming properties. I keep a jar of lavender oil in the kitchen, and many days I uncap it, close my eyes, and take a long, restorative whiff of that sucker while the chaos plays out around me...
Some things need to be ritualized and made sacred — for example, my morning coffee. I have trained my son to accept that Mama needs — NEEDS — to brew and enjoy her first cup of coffee before she can be expected to do much of anything, least of all play. “I’m finishing my coffee” has become code for “Go and entertain yourself,” and it’s kind of magical.
Inhale some fresh air; feel the sun on your skin; observe the bees, the flowers and the trees. Do not observe your child caked in mud up to his knees. This visual will not aid mindful relaxation.
Take some time to enjoy a few slow, deep, intentional breaths, something to counter the shallow, stressed-out parent pant that happens as we try to do All. The. Things. Menial and mindless household chores such as washing dishes offer good occasions for mindful breathing. (Focused breathing works wonders when you need to back out of a power struggle with a 3-year-old gracefully.)
Enjoy your food
When my son was a newborn, I got into the habit of ravenously shoveling in my food like Miss Piggy coming off a cleanse. (Actually, I still do that...) But sometimes I remember to hold a bite in my mouth long enough to chew it fully and to note its taste and texture, and feel the nourishment going into my body.
If you don’t, you will have to pay someone to fix your messed-up back and neck. This is good for physiotherapists and chiropractors, but not for you (believe me). A couple of minutes before bed or first thing in the morning to work out the kinks — instead of, say, scrolling through a Twitter feed you don’t really care about anyway — can work wonders.
Create sacred space
We all need a space we can associate with relaxation — even if it’s just your pillow, anointed in lavender. Or the muted darkness of a closet where you shelter in with a stash of chocolate bars. Whatever works.
Go for a walk
Walking with a preschooler definitely makes you stop and appreciate the small miracles of nature (every single one of them), but, when you can swing it, a solo ramble around the block is ideal for de-stressing. Walking the family dog is a good excuse to go off by yourself in the evening and not have to talk to anyone; having said that, though, don’t even think about getting a new puppy if you want to have any mindful moments, ever.
Will practicing mindfulness solve all your parenting woes? Nope. Not even close. But creatively eking out a few moments here and there each day to attend to yourself might just keep you from turning into a Mommy/Daddy Rage Monster or a puddle of emotional goo, and that’s probably a good thing for all involved.